Florida Keys News
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Sun Downers welcome new commander today

Navy Commander Todd "B.B." Peasley has been flying airplanes since he can remember, before he was old enough to even see over the instrument panel of his father's plane.

"I'm not your typical fighter pilot who saw the movie 'TOPGUN' and decided to join," Peasley said from his office overlooking the tarmac at Boca Chica Field. "I've been flying since before I can remember. My first memories are of me trying to see over the panel."

The incoming commanding officer of Key West's only home squadron, Composite Fighter Squadron 111 (VFC-111), also known as the Sun Downers, still owns that airplane he flew with his father -- a Bellanca Super Viking.

"Some families have a family car, we have a family airplane," the Belmont, Calif., native said.

Peasley's father was a former Navy man and a pilot, but didn't fly planes officially in the service. Planes were a family hobby, Peasley said.

By the time Peasley, now 40, was 16, he had already soloed on a Cessna 152 and had begun readying his future as a flight instructor in the private sector.

The image of military aviators flying in air shows got him thinking, however, that it might be cheaper to fly for the Navy. Paying for flight time is expensive, he noted.

So Peasley enlisted, and he enlisted big. In 1997, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, also known Annapolis. In 2009, the graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), made famous by the movie. He has logged more than 3,500 hours in fighter jets, and made more than 450 aircraft carrier landings during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I've been very blessed that I've not had a bad job in the Navy and been extremely lucky -- the timing has been right," he said.

Today, Peasley will take command of the Sun Downers from outgoing C.O. David "Supafly" Faehnle during a change-of-command ceremony at the squadron's hangar on the eastern side of Boca Chica Field.

Peasley will be joined by new executive officer Paul "BoBo" Felini.

His job will be to lead the Sun Downers as they train Navy fighter pilots flying the F/A-18 Super Hornets who are heading out on assignment with fleet. Though the Sun Downers are relatively small, they are made up of some of the most experienced and best fighter pilots in the Navy.

"I get to work with the best pilots in the world," Peasley said, "and I get to fly in great hardware."

Every incoming and outgoing commanding officer with the Sun Downers always remarks on how much fun the older and sleeker F-5N Tiger II is to fly.

"It's not more advanced (than the Super Hornet) nor is it the fastest," Peasley said, adding that the Vietnam-era jet is just fun to fly.

Peasley's call sign, "B.B.," stands for the figure skater Brian Boitano. Call signs are given to pilots by their comrades. They don't pick their own. Typically, the more a pilot hates his call sign the better the odds it will stick with him or her for life.

"It's really not a good story," Peasley said, laughing. "I just happened to be the only guy then who knew who he was, this figure skater, and the name stuck."

Peasely is married to Stephanie and they have a 4-year-old son.

Will his son soon be flying the family's Super Viking?

"If he wants to," Peasley said. "I'm not going to force it on him."

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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